Edinburgh cyclist Peggy SeriÃ¨s may have come late to the sport butÂ it hasn’t prevented her fromÂ winning.
Just five years ago, Peggy SeriÃ¨s swapped tango dancing for cycling and sat on the saddle of her first road bike. Since then she has discovered a new sporting love and talent â€“ and is beating many far younger and more experienced cyclists.
The 41-year-old Edinburgh University senior lecturer says: â€œI didnâ€™t own a bike and had never really cycled except for commuting to school as a child. My passion was Argentinian tango.
â€œBut my boyfriend at that time, Steve, was a keen cyclist and he decided Iâ€™d like cycling. He chose a road bike for me and some Lycra â€“ and after a few weeks he signed us up for the Pedal for Scotland event. I didnâ€™t even have clipped-in pedals then!â€
The Pedal for Scotland Glasgow to Edinburgh ride of almost 50 miles was the longest ride Peggy had ever undertaken.
She says: â€œSteve had no idea what it was to be a beginner cyclist because he had always ridden at a high level. So, from the start of me getting on a bike, we would go for long rides. We would set out for 100km without him thinking anything of it.
â€œIt was a very steep learning curve for me if I wanted to be able to follow him but I found I loved it and that I could ride long distances.â€
Falling in love with the bike
The following summer, Peggy and Steve went cycle touring in France. They rode 1,000km from St Malo to Bordeaux, Peggyâ€™s home town, in eight days carrying all their kit for camping along the route.
Peggy says: â€œI loved it. It was one of the best vacations Iâ€™d taken and I was hooked on cycling. I’d found my great new passion.â€
Peggy says: â€œI knew Iâ€™d need to train for this one and I didnâ€™t want to be left behind so I joined HervÃ©lo, the women’s cycling club in Edinburgh. I trained by cycling more, mostly at weekends, with new people and with Steve and I rode a lot of other sportives.
â€œI rode my first tough alpine cols [mountain passes] with Steve in June 2012 and did Lâ€™Etape du Tour in July. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, but I was completely ecstatic at the finish line.â€
Then Steve came up with an even bigger idea. He had always dreamt of riding the full Tour de France route and when he suggested it to Peggy she quickly agreed to enter the Tour de Force.
She says: â€œIt was mad to think that having only cycled for a few years I would take on this massive event, riding all 21 stages of the Tour de France route one week before the pros. You do every stage the same and in the same amount of days as the pros.
â€œWe had nine months to train for it but I knew I needed more endurance experience and confidence. I downloaded a training plan from Training Peaks and joined another cycling club, Edinburgh RC.
â€œTo push myself I decided to do a lot more racing. But I was 39 and I realise now it was a brave thing to do at that age and with so little experience.â€
A year of training and racing
Peggy and Steve were among the first riders to gain their accreditation to ride at Glasgowâ€™s new Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. Shortly afterwards, Peggy took part in her first track league race on a borrowed bike.
She says: â€œIt was meant to be part of the training for the TDF but I enjoyed it very much. The women’s field was small but I gained confidence from getting good results.
â€œI then started working with a coach, James McCallum, who I am still with today.â€
Peggy rode the TDF and found it to be â€œan amazing adventureâ€. She says: â€œIt was so hard, painful and very exhausting in so many ways but I was amazed by what the body can do. I even fell off on a descent on one of the stages and that knocked my confidence. But it was a fantastic experience overall and it made me even more motivated to ride my bike.â€
After the tour, Peggy decided to ride more competitively and became a â€œCat 2â€ rider. (Read about the British Cycling categories for riders.) Rather than enter longer distance events, as you might expect, she took on a new challenge as a cycling sprinter.
Peggy says: â€œI discovered I was more of a sprinter, at least I found I was good at this. This is unusual for a woman of my age because normally you are better at endurance sports but it seemed to come naturally to me to race fast over shorter distances.â€
Winning and learning
Next, she won another bigger race, the 50-mile Munlochy Womenâ€™s Road Race, which is part of the Women’s Scottish Road Race series. She describes this as â€œthe best day of my lifeâ€.
These races were against women of all ages, but including many riders by far her junior.
Peggyâ€™s racing success continued on the track. She took second place in the Scottish Track Championships â€œscratchâ€ race and fourth in the â€œpointsâ€ race, again against a younger field. Against women of her own age, Peggy won the Scottish Veterans Championships in the pursuit discipline.
In October 2014, she competed in the World Track Masters Championships in Manchester in the age 40 to 45 category. She took home a silver medal for the pursuit and a bronze medal for the scratch race.
In early 2015, Peggy switched to Team Thomsons Cycles, a respected Paisley-based racing team.
She says: â€œThis year, I have done well with my road and track racing with lots of top 10 places. I also took part in the World Masters Track Championships in France. The event is open to anyone older than 30.
â€œI raced all races that were available for women â€“ pursuit, 500m TT, points and team sprint â€“ and won four silver medals.”
On top of all this Peggy won her first MTB race, the Ae Dirt Crit, and came third overall and first vet in a cyclocross event in Sussex, part of the Cyclo-cross League, as well as being the winning vet in the Cross at the Castle on Mull.
On the racing horizon are the Scottish Track Championships in August, including defending her Scottish Vets Champs title, and the World Masters in October.
Peggyâ€™s secrets of success
Gaining so much success in such a short time is impressive, especially when Peggy came to cycling in her late 30s. Â Yet she believes the veryÂ â€œnew-nessâ€ of cycling has been key to her achievements.
She says: â€œI think I was very quickly very passionate about cycling. I want to get out on my bike and train a lot and I had, still have, a huge enthusiasm for all things two wheels.
â€œSteve also helped me a lot because he knows so much about bikes, equipment, training and racing. I mean, we were reading Cycling Weekly at breakfast and looking at bike parts catalogues before going to sleep!
â€œAlso, Steve gave me the confidence to try. He was immediately convinced that I would be good at cycling and that pushed me on.
â€œI have always been quite sporty but it felt like I was waiting to find a sport I could be competitive at even at my age, and despite being so short. I’m 4ft 11in.
â€œI also have a competitive nature and when I do something I do it with 100 per cent commitment. And I also like being immersed in natural surroundings. So, I think, cycling gives me all of this and that is why I have taken so well to it.”
Peggy also believes that her age is an advantage. She says: â€œI think I am more relaxed when racing because there is not much at stake. I feel I don’t have anything to prove, in theory at least, and I can do it for fun.
â€œBeing fresh to the sport was definitely an advantage as well, because I was so enthusiastic. It was like discovering a new life and a new part of myself when I thought nothing like that could happen.
â€œI considered myself mostly as an intellectual â€“ I work in the field of computational neuroscience â€“Â and somehow always thought that being so short in stature would be a disadvantage in everything except maybe martial arts and gymnastics.”
Peggy trains around 12 hours each week, with the focus on track and short, fast road criteriums. The sessions are about two hours and include intervals, sprints and standing starts. She also includes â€œsome fun ridesâ€.